OK, I promise this is the last one, but it's the one that ties the whole thing together. (For this thing to make much sense you must read the previous post.)
In a previous post I mentioned that Rick had moved his kite shop out of his home and into a waterfront location on the city's Southbank Riverwalk. The store became a focal point for buskers and artists and drum circles of all kinds.
They attracted so many people that their performances were formalized into events called, New Vaudeville Nights. They
were very informal events, featuring whatever performers happened to show up that
particular evening and they were free and open to the public.
performers would station themselves wherever on the deck was comfortable, the headliners in the center of the expansive
boardwalk, the audience forming a circle around them. It was up close
and personal and the evenings were filled with smiles and laughter. The star attraction at these events was a newcomer to town who called himself The Great Zucchini.
was a classic street performer. Fire eating, juggling, slight of hand
and balancing acts all performed during a running commentary of timely
anecdotes and one-liners. Dressed like a French mime with painted
face, striped shirt and ballet-style pants and shoes, he would walk the
boardwalk during the day, working for tips as he pulled quarters out of a
child's ear or gathered a small crowd as he juggled balls over his
head, behind his back, under his legs and over his shoulder, all the
while balancing a juggling pin or someone's umbrella on his nose.
Vaudeville nights Zucchini often performed with his teenage son,
Stefan, an engaging and precocious young man whose brilliant smile made
the girls swoon.
Stefan would throw the pins to each other and catch them over their
heads, behind their backs, while turning in circles, and
while spinning hula hoops or balancing on large balls. It was a great show capped off by Zucchini's
fire breathing act. The huge ball of fire blown into the air never
ceased to bring forth oohs and aahs and an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience who quickly filled the duo's tip jar in appreciation.
At the time, I worked for a non-profit where I organized several special event fund raisers and I
often employed Zucchini as entertainment. I would have him wander
through the crowd at a banquet performing his slight of hand tricks or
juggling at the entrance to an event as he welcomed our patrons. No
matter where I used him, he was a crowd favorite and always brightened
And then, one night while I was sitting in the circle surrounding his and Stefan's performance, I looked across the way and there she was... my dear friend
Shannon! Our eyes met at the same moment and we couldn't
resist rushing right into the middle of the show and into each others
arms for a great big hug.
and Stefan didn't miss a beat. Laughing and grinning from ear to ear, they
continued pitching their pins around us as we embraced, and then over
and around us as we realized where we were and ducked and dived
out of the way. After we got settled she introduced me to her new
husband, Raji, an Anglo-Indian computer geek who seemed like a really nice guy.
couldn't wait to ask about her brother and his family in New Mexico.
What happened? Was there any news? To my surprise, a giant smile came
over her face and a twinkle to her eye as she pointed and said, "That's
him. Zucchini is my brother."
"No way!" is the only response I could manage.
that evening, the three of us sitting on a bench together laughing over
the improbable coincidence, I asked Zucchini if the whole thing was for
real. He said, unfortunately, yes.
told me that he and his family had been out of town on vacation when the Three
Mile Island accident occurred. As they were returning home they saw
several of their friends speeding in the opposite direction. They knew
immediately that something was bad wrong and flagged down the next
friend they saw. When they learned of the problem, they left their
children with their friends for safe keeping, and he and his wife, both
of whom were safety technicians at the plant, went in to do what they
could to help.
What they found
when they got there was a full-blown melt-down that had somehow failed
to totally breach containment. They also found that the filters
designed to stop any radiation leaks were quickly overwhelmed and freely
spewing contamination into the environment. They finally got it under
control but by then, the damage was done.
the days following, the power company and the government put a tight
lid on communication with anyone outside of the plant, especially the
media. Then the cover-up began. Zucchini couldn't stand the fraud and
blew the whistle to the local media. The rest of the story you know
from my last post. Deliberate or accident, after
the death of their brother-in-law they figured there was no sense hiding
any longer and so they moved to Cowford to be near their aging and frail mother.
ten years they had lived in the deep mountains of New Mexico,
completely off of the grid. No running water. No electricity. He said
that they cut and stacked firewood all summer so as to get them through
the brutal winters. Their nearest neighbor was an eccentric old
hermit, a retired circus performer whose stage name was... The Great
Having no marketable
trade other than that of nuclear technician and finding it emotionally
impossible to plug back into the system, Zucchini borrowed the old man's
moniker and put the tricks and stunts he had learned from him to good
use as a busker.
years after this story their beautiful son, Stefan, was killed in an
auto accident. He and some friends were pushing a stalled car off of a
dark road when they were hit by another driver who saw them too late.
Zucchini and his wife again retreated into the obscurity of
the mountains, this time, North Carolina. I haven't seen or heard from
them since. Shannon and her husband returned to England where, I
assume, she still resides. And me, I'm here still spinning yarns.
And so ends the Adventures of Rick O'Shea. At least... for now.